Paris – A defiant Charlie Hebdo cover of a crying Prophet Muhammad above the slogan “All is Forgiven” was reproduced by media around the world on Tuesday but was seen by many Muslims as an unnecessary provocation.
The front page of the French satirical newspaper – its first since many of its staff were slain in a jihadi attack last week that killed 12 people – was widely taken up by media in Western nations and in Latin America.
It shows Muhammad on a green background under the ambiguous title “All is forgiven”.
But major media in many Arab and some African and Asian countries, as well as Turkey, did not show it due to Muslim sensitivity to portraying Mohammad.
Egypt’s Islamic authority denounced the Charlie Hebdo cover. Violent riots broke out there in early 2006 over Mohammad caricatures first printed by a Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, and later republished by Charlie Hebdo.
“This action is an unjustified provocation against the feelings of 1.5 billion Muslims,” the authority, Dar al-Ifta, said.
Many devout Muslims view any depiction of their prophet as forbidden and Charlie Hebdo’s past caricatures of Muhammad as inflammatory insults.
Because of huge demand for the special “survivors’ issue” of Charlie Hebdo, some three million copies are to be printed – far more than the usual 60 000 before the attack brought the weekly to worldwide prominence – and it will be translated into 16 languages.
The issue will include cartoons by its murdered cartoonists.
An advance copy obtained by AFP contained cartoons mocking the two Islamist gunmen who carried out the attack. One has them arriving in paradise and asking, “Where are the 70 virgins?”
“With the Charlie team, losers,” comes the reply.
The remaining Charlie Hebdo staff who put the issue together said they wanted Muhammad on the cover to show they would not “cede” to extremists wanting to silence them.
The fact that many non-European outlets did not reproduce the front page cartoon revealed unease about the magazine being elevated to a global champion for freedom of expression.
The French publication earned broad sympathy after the bloody attack, but some expressed reservations – or stronger – about the role now attributed to it.
One of the fiercest criticisms of the Muhammad front page came from within Iran, an Islamic republic notorious for throwing many journalists in jail.
“Charlie Hebdo has again insulted the Prophet,” the conservative news website Tabnak asserted, next to a blurred image of the cover.
Major Arab broadcasters Al-Arabiya and Al-Jazeera did not show the cover in their reports.
Leaked internal e-mails from Qatar-based Al-Jazeera have revealed a debate between its Arabic- and English-language employees about whether Charlie Hebdo and the “Je Suis Charlie” slogan should symbolise free speech.
Most French media outlets, including newspapers Le Monde, Liberation, Le Figaro and TV networks including TF1, published images of the Charlie Hebdo cover.
The rector of Paris’s mosque, Dalil Boubakeur, urged France’s Muslims “to remain calm” over the cover “by avoiding emotional reactions… and respecting freedom of opinion”.
The head of a big mosque in central eastern Paris, Hammad Hammami, voiced a similar stand. “We don’t want to throw oil on the fire,” he said. “We consider these caricatures to be acceptable. They are not degrading for the Prophet,” unlike previous Charlie Hebdo cartoons.
UK, US media cautious
The cover was widely reproduced across Europe. Some Western outlets, though, showed more caution in reproducing the cover. In Denmark, for instance, the Jyllands-Posten newspaper that triggered 2006 riots with its Muhammad cartoons did not reproduce the Charlie Hebdo cover.
Britain’s The Independent newspaper was the only of the major dailies in London to put the image in its print version. The Telegraph’s website cropped the cover to cut out Muhammad.
The Guardian newspaper’s website included it with its report, but warned: “This article contains the image of the magazine cover, which some may find offensive.”
A British radical preacher, Anjem Choudary, who is under investigation for militancy, branded the new publication an “act of war” and a “blatant provocation”.
Almost none of the newspapers in Italy and in Russia carried the cover image.
Many US news media showed prudence. The New York Times website reported on the Muhammad cover but providing readers only with a link to the site of the French newspaper Liberation. Major television networks also did not reproduce the cover.
The Wall Street Journal, though, did, and so did tabloids like the New York Daily News.
According to the French press distribution company MLP, the new Charlie Hebdo issue will be available in many countries that previously never received the weekly, including Australia – where strong demand was reported – and in India, where there are around 170 million Muslims.